When I was living in Japan and in Africa, I occasionally met a non-native English speaker who spoke almost fluent English with clear pronunciation, natural intonation and mature vocabulary and had great listening skills. Naturally, I assumed that they must have spent time in an English-speaking country or had English-speaking friends or a tutor, but all of them told me that they had never left their country and had little contact with English speakers. However, I soon learned that all of them had one thing in common: each of them had developed their oral skills through one fairly simple technique.
After the first day at a college I had previously taught at, I noticed a long line of students outside our EAP (English for Academic Purposes) director’s office. It was my first day teaching in this program, so, needless to say, I was curious. It turns out these students all felt that they had not been placed in the right level.
I soon discovered that this was a common occurrence on the first day of each term in that program.
The courses in that EAP program were organized around integrated skills, so each student was placed into one of five levels for all five hours of instruction. 1 By the end of the first day, students were quick to notice that some of their classmates were weaker than they were in some skills (e.g. speaking) but higher in others (e.g. reading). They also were aware that some of the activities during the course of the day, depending on the skill, were right at their level, but others were above or below.
It’s not too surprising that this would happen. New students had been given a placement exam that tested multiple skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening and grammar. The exam resulted in one score, and their level was determined by that one score. That seemed to be the crux of the problem.